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Posted at 9:30 AM ET, 05/28/2010

Why involve Michelle Obama in anti-test campaign?

By Valerie Strauss

I published a guest post yesterday about a postcard campaign starting today by a coalition of non-profit groups to try to persuade First Lady Michelle Obama to talk to her husband about changing his administration’s education policy on high-stakes standardized tests.

Many supporters of President Obama have been disappointed that his education secretary, Arne Duncan, has pursued school reform policies that not only retain the Bush administration’s emphasis on standardized tests but even expand them.

The First Lady herself has been quoted as saying that Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which emphasized high-stakes tests, was detrimental to public schools. That, apparently, is what led to this postcard campaign.

It may well be that this is an exercise in futility. While Mrs. Obama has criticized No Child Left Behind, she has also said publicly that standardized tests are a fact of life in public school today (her children go to a private school, Sidwell Friends School in the District, where they are not routinely given).

Still, sometimes long shots pay off.

Anyone interested in sending a postcard can read about the campaign and get complete instructions on how to participate at the website of the organization Time Out From Testing, here.

Here’s the text of one postcard being sent to the First Lady, which explains well why the anti-testing organizations believe this is worth the effort.

It was written by Julie Woestehoff from Parents United for Responsible Education in Chicago, who connects high-stakes testing, Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiative and good health.

Woestehoff wrote the following on her blog Healthy Learning:

Here’s what I’m writing to Michelle Obama as part of this weekend’s postcard campaign:

You are a strong advocate for our children’s physical health, and for that we thank you.

Today we are asking you to be a strong advocate for their mental, emotional and intellectual health, too – to promote the fitness of their minds as well as their bodies.

You planted a garden at the White House to give children a hands-on experience that would help them begin to think about nutrition. Our children need a garden of learning, too, where we plant great ideas, get children excited about education, and harvest academic success for every student. You’ve asked children to get active, to move, play, and get involved in sports. Children also need to be freed from bubble sheet learning-- to get up off of their desk chairs in class to create, demonstrate, and integrate!

We’d like you to join us in a new campaign – “Let’s Move Away from High-Stakes Testing.” The goal of this campaign is to make sure that children grow up with healthy minds, learning a full, enriched curriculum nurtured by a variety of healthy, active, hands-on instructional and assessment methods.

It’s important that the whole country get behind healthy learning, and this includes everyone understanding more about what can happen when schools depend too much on standardized tests.

Because, unfortunately, high-stakes testing is an invasive weed in our healthy garden of learning. Teaching to the test has choked out critical areas like the arts, science, history and civics along with physical activity and sports.

Like fast food, high-stakes tests are easy, cheap, quick – and potentially unsafe when overused. Yet they have become the main dish of schooling despite the warnings of scientists that they should be used only sparingly, in a balanced "assessment diet."

High-stakes testing seems to have a disproportionately negative impact on low-income children whose schools can be like the educational equivalent of the urban “food desert.” Unlike more upscale areas, these neighborhoods don’t offer a lot of fresh produce or wide varieties of foods, and their schools tend to focus more on the empty calories of test drill than on an enriched, varied curriculum.

It’s not by choice that this situation has developed. Schools across the U. S. have been force-fed this testing regime under the harsh test-and-punish policies of the No Child Left Behind Act.

As Congress begins to rewrite this law, we are asking for your help to phase out the bad, unhealthy aspects of testing in our schools and help us replace them with an educational diet and exercise program of enriched curricula, diverse instruction, and appropriate, high-quality assessments.


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By Valerie Strauss  | May 28, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Standardized Tests  
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She makes a good analogy. Mrs. Obama might actually listen. I fear that Arne Duncan might have his ego involved and may be unwilling to change his ideas, even when presented with evidence to the contrary. He also seems to be coming at reform with this idea that teachers are the problem and accountability (really testing) is going to be the solution. Go figure.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 28, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Arne Duncan recently visited a school in Maryland (Bladensburg) where he sat down with teachers & Superintendant and discussed the FIRST program:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Teachers back FIRST program
Bladensburg Elementary administrators say incentive program has been positive

"When the possibility of offering incentive pay to Prince George's County teachers was first mentioned in 2007, Lewis Robinson, director of the county teachers' union, said it didn't go over well.

"The whole concept of linking student achievement to teacher evaluation, to pay, has always been a big no-no," Robinson said May 20 to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan during a roundtable discussion on teacher incentive pay. "It's not where we as unions typically go, but we took the risk."

Now, Robinson said, teachers are praising the stringent guidelines of the Financial Incentive Rewards for Supervisors and Teachers (FIRST) program, which provides teachers with bonuses based on state assessment scores, in-class teacher evaluations and observation of lesson plans."

It seems that teachers, in low income areas with low achievement success rates, when provided appropriate resources and training, (and bonuses), standardized testing isn't such a bad thing after all.

Go figure.

Robinson said the program has sparked greater collaboration and increased student achievement.

Posted by: TwoSons | May 28, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Mrs. Obama will be hesitant to come between her hubby and his man/teammate Arne, to whom he has given carte blanche to further wreck American education. First, Mrs. Obama must convince hubby to give Arne a ticket on the Delta Queen and then choose a real educational leader for this Cabinet post, one who is qualified and befitting of the title and duty - one who will be dedicated to the advancement of learning rather than delegate education to the testing companies and foundations that benefit from devouring tax-payer education funds - one who is intrinsically motivated to elevate authentic learning.

Duncan's spin on education has spun and he is caught in his own web. His credibility is shot. As the power holder and hostage holder of educational $$, his vulgar disregard for those who oppose his plans is not only outrageous, but borderline .....okay, I will say it, psychotic.

Whether Mrs. Obama will utilize her persuasive powers in this direction (to convince hubby to send Arne far, far away), we shall hope.

Posted by: shadwell1 | May 28, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Standardized tests, which are known to be invalid and unreliable are costing states enormous sums of money. States not only pay for the testing, but for multiple services to help them pass the tests (for example ENI).

The fact that a student can pass a standardized test doesn't mean anything other than that they know good test taking skills and have been well prepared for the test. Schools often spend weeks ahead of time preping the students for the tests.

So if a student passes the standardized test, we that that he or she either knows the material or knows the tricks to pick the right answer or has been prepped well. But does the student know anything other than what is on the test? We don't know.

Posted by: resc | May 28, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

When it comes to something as phony as standardized tests rather than curriculum based assessment, follow the money. This is about money, not fair assessment.

In India children are given tests based on the curriculum. Why don't we do that in the U.S.? Because supporters of standardized test scores would lose money.

Posted by: resc | May 28, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

What I don't understand about Arne Duncan is that he has to be aware that schools take several weeks away from instruction each year to prepare students for standardized tests. He also must understand that because of the pressure to get high test scores many schools teach nothing but what they anticipate will on the test - thus narrowing the curriculm. And yet he supports them.

Didn't the DCPS take about 3 weeks off from instruction last year to prepare for the test?

Posted by: aby1 | May 28, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I recall a time when there weren't standardized testing, but then again that was when the US Public school system at the top.

But then student progress slowed to dismal proportion:

Poor Marks For U.S. Education System
UN: S. Korea, Japan Top Best Schooling List; U.S. Near Bottom

In Finland:

"The teachers are respected; high talent is attracted into teaching; it is considered to be one of the most important professions.”

-Finnish Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen

The Finnish government keeps the pressure on students to a point that they complain of a lack of fun at school. At the same time, there are no nationwide exams or even final tests. There is continuous assessment -- a mixture of monthly tests and teacher evaluations.


Only 15 per cent of those who apply to be teachers are accepted, even though pay levels are about average for Europe. A master’s degree is required. (Not unrelated, for it's size this country has one of the highest percentage of Ph.D.s in the world.) Teachers are regularly sent on courses during their long holidays to upgrade their knowledge and skills.

Posted by: TwoSons | May 28, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

As far as test prep, when was there a time when a teacher did not tell their students what chapters to read again/study to prepare for a test given in class?

When was their a time when notes are taken in class and teachers instructing students to study those same notes as test prep.

For the State of Maryland Public Schools, results of student standaradized testing is suppose to be utlized to assist teachers. If teachers do not utilize test results described below, then it it does seem a waste of time for all involved.

How will you [teachers] analyze it?

Your purpose in analyzing classroom data is to determine what your students have learned, what they need help to learn and how you need to plan instruction to ensure that they all do learn. In an Educational Leadership article entitled, "Developing Data Mentors," by Beverly Nichols and Kevin Singer, the authors say that "gathering student-assessment data is not enough. Administrators and teachers must learn to analyze the data and apply this information in the classroom."

There are a number of key questions that an examination of classroom data should address.

Which content standard indicator(s) was the teacher assessing?

What percent of students demonstrated proficiency?

What implications does that have for instruction?

Which students have not demonstrated that they can do this?

What diagnostic information did an examination of student work provide?

Based on individual student performance, what do I need to do next to move the student to proficiency?

Based on the class performance, what re-teaching do I need to do?

After reassessing, did my students demonstrate proficiency?

Is my re-teaching or other intervention resulting in improved student performance?

When we compare performance by subgroups (e.g., by racial group, gender, students with disabilities, ESL students, or students in the free and reduced meals program), do we see any groups not performing as well as the whole group? If so, what are we going to do about that?

Do we have any students who are not attaining proficiency across indicators?
What diagnostic information do we have about them to inform instruction?

What interventions have we tried? What interventions do we plan to try next?

Posted by: TwoSons | May 28, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse


Do you work for a test score company? I work in special ed and I can tell you are faking it.

Posted by: jlp19 | May 28, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

No I do not and what is their to fake about? Standardized testing is a very serious issue. I'm just the truth about testing guidelines for the State of Maryland which is ALL public information.

In Maryland, students with disabilities participate in either the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) in reading, mathematics and science (with or without accommodations, as appropriate) or in the Alternate Maryland School Assessment (ALT-MSA), as determined by the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team. The MSA is administered to students in grades 3-8 and 10 and tests students' attainment of grade level objectives in reading and mathematics. In addition, the Alt-MSA measures a student's attainment of science Mastery Objecitves in grades 5, 8 and 10. Students with significant cognitive disabilities who cannot participate in the MSA and the MSA/Science, even with accommodations participate in ALT-MSA. ALT-MSA assesses student attainment of their instructional level reading, mathematics and science mastery objectives that are aligned with grade level Maryland Content Standards.

The Alt-MSA participation criteria are described below:
Alt-MSA participation criteria. Students with disabilities in grades 3-8 and 10 must participate in either MSA or Alt-MSA. The decision for which assessment is appropriate for an individual student is made by each student's IEP Team. A student with a significant cognitive disability will participate in Alt-MSA if he or she meets each of the following criteria:

• The student is learning (at emerging, readiness, or functional literacy levels) extended Maryland reading and extended Maryland mathematics content standards objectives.


• The student requires explicit and ongoing instruction in functional skills.


• The student requires extensive and substantial modification (e.g., reduced complexity of objectives and learning materials, and more time to learn) of general education curriculum. The curriculum differs significantly from that of their non-disabled peers. They learn different objectives, may use different materials, and may participate in different learning activities.


• The student requires intensive instruction and may require extensive supports, including physical prompts, to learn, apply, and transfer or generalize knowledge and skills to multiple settings.


• The student requires extensive support to perform and participate meaningfully and productively in daily activities in school, home, community, and work environments.


• The student cannot participate in the MSA even with accommodations.

Students not meeting the criteria above will participate in the MSA, with or without accommodations, as appropriate, based on their IEP.

Posted by: TwoSons | May 28, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

my apologies,

my statement should have read: I'm just "sharing" the truth about standardized testing....

Posted by: TwoSons | May 28, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

You are such a fake. I know all this stuff and I know you are just copying and pasting without realizing how things really fit together.

Posted by: jlp19 | May 28, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

It's good that you know all "this stuff" especially since you work with special needs students; hopefully they are progressing well under your charge. Hopefully all resources are provided and applied as they should be toward your special needs students.

Of course, I've copying and pasting public information provided by the MSDE school system, was I suppose to retype it?

Links to the information were included to assure that the information isn't "fake".

And yes standardized testing occurs in international schools (copy/paste/info and links included as well).

I am not a fan of standardized testing; but understand their purpose. That's IF the data/results are used as they should be. They are designed, from what I've read & experienced with my kids, data collected to assists teachers, administrators and their classrooms.

But as stated before, there WAS a time when standardized testing wasn't necessary. It's too bad they seem to be now.

Posted by: TwoSons | May 28, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

"But as stated before, there WAS a time when standardized testing wasn't necessary. It's too bad they seem to be now."

And why do they need to be used now? Can you tell me what has happened that has forced us to use them now?

Posted by: tutucker | May 28, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

And why do they need to be used now? Can you tell me what has happened that has forced us to use them now?

Because of the GI Bill and the Baby Boomers. The numbers applying to college increased tremendously after WWII and the number of children in elementary school increased tremendously a short time later. Educational institutions needed quick ways to evaluate this crush. At the same time, computers were developed that could score punch cards quickly. Standardized tests seemed the answer. And now they have become big business and have taken on a life of their own.

(Perhaps President Obama and Arne Duncan should take some of the tests. Maybe if they saw how there can be more than one possible answer, or if they were told the second answer isn't likely to be chosed by real students because no one will know that answer until a teacher officially teaches it, they might decide the tests are just as ridiculous as those of us who have worked with them know them to be.)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 29, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

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